Two questions today:
1. Hi Barbara: You answer a lot of questions related to sleeping habits of children and how to get them to sleep in their own bed. My question is not related to the "how" so much as the "why." My husband and I don't see eye-to-eye on this topic.
His son, my stepson, is 6 and has recently started coming to our bed early in the night. My husband told him the rules that he needs to go back to his own bed and he takes him back right away. The problem is he stays and ends up falling asleep in his son's bed.
When I mentioned that the preference is to put him in his own bed and come back to our bed, he asked me why it was harmful for him to fall asleep in his son's bed. I didn't have a response.
So, other than depriving ourselves of sleep, are there any other consequences to sharing a bed with your child? Does it have any impact on the child's ability to develop socially or become independent?
Any insight you can offer that would help me explain why we need to change our habits?
From: Sarah, Boston
2. Dear Barbabra,
What are your thoughts on 7- and 9-year-old boys sleeping in the same bed with their mother nightly? I am dating the wonderful mother of these two boys and I believe this is harmful to their ongoing child development. Often times the 3 of them fall asleep to a blaring television.
From: Hank, Providence, R.I.
Hi Sarah & Hank,
A brief history here: For decades (think the Spock era), American parents were warned not to sleep with their children because it would encourage unhealthy dependence in children, or, as Ann Hulbert writes in her ambitious history of parenting, "Raising America," co-sleeping threatened to undermine the "all-American insistence on solitary slumber as the bedrock, so to speak, of personal autonomy." There was also, of course, the concern that a parent could roll over or suffocate an infant.
Fast forward to the 90's when even T. Berry Brazelton ate his words and allowed that maybe co-sleeping wasn't so bad after all.
What happened in between? For one thing, cross-cultural studies showed no long-term damage to children raised in other countries where co-sleeping was the norm. For another, the reality of huge numbers of two-working-parent and single-parent families -- who sometimes found co-sleeping both a comfort and a necessity -- demanded another look at co-sleeping.
It turns out, the admonition to not sleep with your child really is rooted in habit and custom more than anything else. Autonomy, including the ability to sleep alone, is a highly-placed American value. Parents want the independence of the marital bed as much as they want their child to be able to spend the occasional night at grandma and grandpa's or to go on a sleepover in first grade.
So here's what it comes down to: The co-sleeping child may be at a social disadvantage because he lacks the ability to sleep at a friend's home and they call him "a baby." Is that risk a big deal? Depends on the child, the family, the social circumstances. Even co-sleepers eventually want to sleep alone, however.
Frankly, I think the biggest knock against co-sleeping is more about the parents than the child. If one partner resents it because it means less intimacy for the couple, that can lead to big problems in a marriage which, obviously, can mean big problems for a child.
In the case of your friend, Hank, I'm sympathetic that she and her boys must get comfort from the closeness of sleeping together. Because the boys are older, I can also understand why you might think it's not a good idea for them developmentally. Here's the thing: You don't know, for sure, what the three of them have been through. You also don't mention how long this has been going on. If the divorce/separation is recent, it may be healing for them and something that will pass, especially because one of the boys is 9. He will not always want to sleep with his mom! So this may be temporary. But: If you are thinking about marrying this woman, it seems reasonable to me that the issue of sleeping arrangements needs to get worked out beforehand so that it won't be a wedge between you and a source of resentment for you as a step-dad.
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